Duke basketball had one of the most experienced teams in the country last season. With the way the game has changed over the past 20 years, it’s become difficult to keep a talented player in college until his senior year. The Blue Devils were fortunate enough to have three.
The senior trio of Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry, and Ryan Kelly gave Duke one of the most balanced starting lineups in the country. The team struggled and the dynamics changed when Ryan Kelly missed a significant amount of time to injury, but there were still two talented seniors who helped carry the load during that period.
All three seniors contributed in a variety of ways last season and all three will be difficult to replace. Each carved out a specific skill that the Blue Devils of the 2013-14 season will need to replace. The following are the most important things Duke must replace from each of last season’s seniors.
Mason Plumlee: Rebounding
Mason Plumlee led the team in rebounding last season with 10.0 boards per game. The next closest player was Ryan Kelly, who averaged 5.3 rebounds and missed 13 games. Plumlee also averaged 17 points per game, but Duke should have a balanced team next season where scoring isn’t a problem. The bigger key is finding someone who can make up for the void Plumlee’s departure leaves on the glass. His nearly seven defensive rebounds per game helped prevent the opposition from grabbing second chance opportunities and his offensive rebounding ability helped keep opposing defenses honest.
Most Likely Candidate to Fill the Need: Amile Jefferson
Jefferson is only 6’8” but his long wingspan gives him the potential to be an extremely effective rebounder. He was productive in a limited role last season and has been building his strength this offseason, which will hopefully give Duke a legitimate rebounding presence.
Seth Curry: Clutch Shooting
Whether it was at a point in the game when the Blue Devils needed to stop a run or come through late with a big bucket, Seth Curry was the guy who wanted the ball in his hands. Despite playing with multiple injuries throughout the season, Curry was one of the best in the country at moving without the ball to get open looks and he was underrated for his ability to create off the dribble. He had the mentality of a closer who wasn’t afraid of the moment or the pressure to make a tough shot. And many times, he did just that.
Most Likely Candidate to Fill the Need: Rasheed Sulaimon
Rasheed Sulaimon went through numerous hot-and-cold streaks during his freshman season, but you could see his incredible potential during his hot streaks. Based on his demeanor and attacking style, Sulaimon looks like a player who relishes the big moment and having the ball in his hands.
Ryan Kelly: Communication
Ryan Kelly’s impact on the game wasn’t always measured in the box score. He could certainly put up big numbers, but he also served as the team’s experienced communicator, especially on defense. Duke’s interior defense and communication on switching ball screens took a major hit when Kelly was forced to sit while his foot injury healed. He also served as the team’s primary voice when other teams tried to speed up the tempo and force Duke to play transition defense.
Most Likely Candidate to Fill the Need: Quinn Cook
After deferring to the three seniors as the leaders of the team last season, Quinn Cook now steps up as the most experienced player in the starting lineup. He’s grown into the leadership role and should have a more vocal presence next season.